* Klobuchar questions AT&T, T-Mobile on merger
* Seeks consumer protections, commitments on pricing
* Senate panel holds hearing Wednesday
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, May 6 A senator is asking AT&T Inc
(T.N) and T-Mobile about their commitment to lower-priced plans
and to maintaining current employment levels ahead of a
congressional hearing on their proposed merger.
Senator Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to the companies
raising a series of concerns about the deal prior to the May 11
hearing by the Senate Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee.
"AT&T and T-Mobile ought to be forthright and transparent
with their customers about the potential effects the merger
might have on prices and the quality of service," Klobuchar
said in a separate statement.
AT&T announced plans in March to acquire Deutsche Telekom
AG's (DTEGn.DE) T-Mobile USA in a $39-billion bid.
The deal would concentrate 80 percent of U.S. wireless
contract customers in just two companies -- AT&T/T-Mobile and
Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications (VZ.N)
and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L).
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile carrier, has argued the merger
would spur innovation, improve the quality of its services and
expand wireless service to 97.3 percent of Americans. The
combined companies would overtake current industry leader
Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and member of the antitrust
panel, sent her letter to AT&T Chief Executive Randall
Stephenson and T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm.
She asked whether the merger would allow the combined
company to reach more rural areas than simply signing data
roaming agreements with T-Mobile and other carriers. And she
questioned the effect of less competition on early termination
fees and cell phone exclusivity clauses.
"We've received the letter and look forward to providing
the Senator with information on the consumer benefits of the
merger between AT&T and T-Mobile," an AT&T spokesman said.
Congress has no direct role in reviewing the merger but has
oversight of the Federal Communications Commission and Justice
Department. Those two agencies are expected to take a year to
complete their reviews.
Stephenson and Humm are due to testify on Wednesday to the
Senate panel, along with major critics of the deal: Sprint
Nextel Corp (S.N) CEO Daniel Hesse and Cellular South
[TELAPC.UL] CEO Victor "Hu" Meena.
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)